The 4-week-old strike by Teamsters against Ryder System Inc., the nation's largest car hauling company, has some Maryland dealers scrambling to get their hands on new cars.
The impact of the strike varies from dealership to dealership and seems to depend upon the models they sell and where their cars are coming from.
While one Owings Mills dealer said he was so low on cars it looked like the dealership was going out of business, other dealers say the strike has had a negligible effect on their business.
There was some hope yesterday that the dealers' difficulties could be coming to an end. John Bastion, a spokesman for Teamsters Local 299 in Detroit, said that Ian Hunter, the chief legal counsel for the group of carriers that includes Ryder, had contacted the union and requested a meeting of the two sides.
It would be the first meeting for the two parties since Sept. 1. Mr. Bastion said that Ron Owens, president of Teamsters Local 299 and the chief negotiator in the Ryder negotiations, was traveling to Washington yesterday and is expected to meet with Mr. Hunter this morning.
Northwest Honda in Owings Mills is one of the victims of the strike against Miami-based Ryder, which annually handles about 6 million new vehicles built in the United States or shipped to U.S. ports from overseas.
"It's frustrating, very frustrating," said Ronald Filling, sales manager of the Reisterstown Road dealership, as he walked through the showroom and slid his hand along the front fender of a fire-engine-red Civic, the only car in the showroom.
"We don't have any Preludes," he said. "We don't have any Passports. We don't have any del Sols or Odysseys."
Edward Dreiband, owner of the dealership, said there were only 38 Hondas in inventory, down from the 100 to 125 the dealership likes to have in stock.
To get the cars it does have, Mr. Dreiband said, the dealership has had to pick them up at the port in Wilmington, Del., about 80 miles away.
The impact of the strike varies from dealership to dealership.
John Sophocles, sales manager at Jerry's Chevrolet in Parkville, said the Ryder strike has had little or no impact there. He said the dealership has had trouble getting full-size Chevrolet pickup trucks, but he attributed that to limited production by General Motors.
As an indication that Jerry's has fared much better than have many other Chevrolet dealerships, Mr. Sophocles said, he was notified Tuesday that Chevrolet has canceled a sales managers' contest "because they were afraid it wouldn't be fair. Dealers in some parts of the country are not getting as many cars as dealers in other parts."
At Keene Dodge in Jarrettsville, inventory has dropped to about 35 percent of normal, said Chuck Cooper, sales manager.
"We haven't had any deliveries at all," said Mr. Cooper. "We haven't seen a [car carrier] truck in here in weeks."
To get the cars it has, Keene has hired nine drivers to pick up vehicles in Newark, Del.
Mr. Cooper said it's no fun to cross a Teamsters picket line to take delivery of cars. "We only do it because our customers want their cars, and some were getting very angry," he said.
He remembers one visit when eight or 10 strikers tried to block the gate to prevent dealers from picking up cars. "We went around back to another entrance. I told our people that if it looks like somebody is going to get hurt, forget it, don't get the cars."
Hermitage needs Mazdas
Jerome H. Fader, president of Heritage Automotive Group, which has 15 outlets selling Chevrolet, Geo, Oldsmobile, Volkswagen, Jeep, Saturn, Cadillac and Mazda cars, said only the Mazda outlets in Owings Mills and Belair are being hurt by the strike.
"My inventory of Mazdas is at an all-time low," he said. "I would like it to be twice the level it is, but there are no cars coming in."
Mr. Fader said he had problems getting Jeeps two weeks ago, but the manufacturer shifted to another carrier and shipments were resumed.
Sales people, lot boys and hired drivers leave the Ken Dixon Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, Honda, Nazda and Geo dealership at 6 a.m. most mornings to travel to Wilmington to pick up Hondas not being shipped. They get back to the Waldorf dealership at 1 or 2 o'clock in the afternoon.
"We'll pick up eight Hondas today, and we'll go back for seven more tomorrow," said Steve Micciche, general sales manager. "It's the only way we can get Hondas."
Mr. Micciche said shipments of other models are less seriously impacted by the strike, but when the Buick truck came earlier this week it left only one car.
'Business as usual'
Even dealers who say they are not feeling the pinch have been wondering how long they might be able to hold out. "It's business as usual at this time," said William A. Hurwitz, president of Fox Automotive Group, which has eight dealerships. "But we don't know how long this will last."
William Scott, a business agent with Teamsters Local 299, estimated that between 125,000 and 150,000 vehicles, both domestics and imports, are sitting at factories, ports, rail depots and terminals nationwide waiting to be shipped to dealers.